I’ve been caring for children for longer than I can remember. Seriously.
Growing up next door to a foster mother, most of my afternoons were spent holding infants or playing with toddlers. I acted as a “mother’s helper” for two full years before I was finally certified in childcare at the ripe young age of 11. For some reason, people just trusted me to look after their kids. I got hooked on childcare very young and stuck with it, and I think many families benefited from having such a young sitter. It sounds a little scary at first, hiring someone to watch your four year old when she can’t even drive, but the right girl can be a huge asset for your family as a casual babysitter.
The biggest perk in hiring a young sitter is that they don’t have preconceived notions of caregiving yet. They haven’t decided that a firm warning is the only discipline appropriate ever, or that children must be read exactly three bedtime stories before they can go to sleep. You get to teach the caregiver your ways of doing things, and she will, most likely, go along with them. This is incredibly beneficial to your children and their routine, and something that is harder to find in older sitters who have made up their minds about how children should be cared for.
Another perk is their flexibility in scheduling. Most fourteen or fifteen year olds don’t have much of a social calender yet, so getting the neighborhood girl to watch your children while you and your partner go out for dinner isn’t very much of a problem. By the time she is old enough to want to go out with friends, she will have already been used to taking one or two nights a week to watch your children.
My third favorite thing about hiring a younger sitter is the years she will be able to spend with your family. A college student will be in town only a few years. An older teenager will leave for college in only a year or two after you hire her. But a younger sitter will be able to cultivate a relationship with your children and family for quite a long time.
Although there are many benefits of hiring a young sitter, there are a few things to keep in mind. First, make sure the girl you hire has completed a babysitting certificate course. I don’t put much stock in those myself, but it is important for a young sitter to go through a course anyway. The Red Cross does a phenomenal job, of course, but online courses can be just as good. The main goal is to make sure they have the book knowledge of childcare – the skills themselves will come with time and practice.
Additionally, be sure to take extra precautions before leaving the sitter alone. Leave a list of emergency contacts, make meal preparation overly easy, and be sure she knows where extra bathroom door keys are kept, just in case your little one throws a fit and locks himself inside.
If you’re still nervous about hiring a young caregiver, start with something small, like inviting her over to watch the children while you do laundry or cook a meal. Pay her, of course, and treat it as a trial period. Next time, have her come over just after school while you run a brief errand. If the sitter is the right fit for your family, it will pay off to hire someone young and put in the for the long run.